Viking age Yule beer, aka. Sahti
- Not exactly distillation related but it's been quiet here lately, an article I wrote to the ARC forum:
Here's a short article I wrote in celebration of Yule and ancient beer, enjoy:
With all the symbolism of old religion associated with this site let's take a look at a classic drink with its roots in Viking times. Since the Yule time is coming and I'll be shortly brewing this old time Yule beer I thought you might like to hear the story and maybe even try the recipe. This is a very old way of doing beer, not from the Sumerian time but from 1000+ years back. As most of you may know using hops in beer is a relatively new invention that gave beer better shelflife and made it possible to produce and transport beer in larger quantities. Before hopping beer was a local thing and most all households made their own beer. The primary reason for the popularity of the beer lied in disease prevention. While water often carried many bacteria and viruses (open severs / no severs) it became sterile while cooked (or heated up actually) for beer making. Thus people who drank water in more densely populated areas soon died away while beer lowers lived on and passed their genes to the next generation. Darwinism at it's best and gives a new insight for beer bellies, clearly they are an indicator of good genetic material. Now who wants to tell the ladies?
Well, it's easy to get distracted while talking about beer, let's get back to the history. While beer was popular in medieval Scandinavia we'll have to concentrate a bit more, at around 14th century Sweden was actually a European superpower controlling large areas in Baltia and even parts of today's Germany. Being a superpower then and even now means you need to have enemies and go to war to show that you truly are the big and bad guy on the block. Unfortunately war going is expensive business and if you want to play you got to pay. In no time the king found out the the cash was a bit short and started to think ways of improving the financial situation. One of the ever so popular ways is taxation, and in no time taxes were set on everything. As an example there was a tax for each chimney in the house paving way for complicated heating systems with one chimney and eventually central heating. Since tobacco was not yet common those days the beer had to carry its share and beer making was put on tax as well. This is actually where the name Sahti originates. When beer making was taxed people started to make "juice", which in Swedish is saft. Unfortunately wild yeast infection could easily ruin one's juice, but of course that was not the blame of the unfortunate juice maker who then had to drink the fermented juice. The name stuck and up until today the traditional beer making has survived in the rural areas of Finland (back then part of the Sweden) and given us the possibility to try what the beer in them old days tasted like.
Now to the actual beer and it's making. There are several typical characteristics of Sahti, it is live beer (i.e. not boiled), it has no hops and it's low on carbon dioxide. I suppose a word of warning is in place here, live beer is an excellent remedy to constipation. Drank a gallon of sahti and odds are you'll pass out and shit your pants, moderation is suggested until you get the hang of it. A somewhat common and nasty way of assassinating people in Viking times was death from below, after drinking enough sahti you feel the urge to visit the outhouse many people were speared from below during the exercise. Shitty job being an assassin. Ok, I got distracted again, back to beer. Let's start with the recipe:
Sahti recipe for 5 litres
2 kg of pilsner malt
0.2 kg rye malt
5 litres of water at 70C
Around 5 litres of boiling water/ water at 75C
Juniper berries, or if possible juniper twigs to for the bed for filtering
Fresh bakers yeast
Form the grain in to your mash tun using juniper twigs as the filter. Since juniper twigs are not available where I live nowadays I use a handful of crushed juniper berries mixed with grains, it works but the character is not as good. Some people use hay instead of juniper twigs, personally I prefer the juniper taste. Regular two row malt can be used, but on some grain specialists you can find actual Sahti malt which is of course recommended. The rye malt provides additional flavour and makes for that dark brown colour. So, this is really quite easy, to the grain bed, add that five litres of 70C water. Check that the temperature settles around 65C and let it convert for an hour. In the old days, when no-one knew what thermometer was, the formation of small bubbles at the bottom of the boiling vessel was an indication of correct temperature. Of course that meant that you had to know the precise amount of water in relation to the amount of grains. By trial and error this was learnt and became the guarded secret of the brewer.
After one hour has passed it's time to get the wort out. Slowly start draining the wort out. The wort will first be cloudy and it may take a while to clear. Pour all the cloudy wort back to the grain bed and once it has cleared start collecting. Take out 5 litres of wort at around 1.060-1.070 SG adding some hot/boiling water to the grain bed when needed. These 5 litres will become your feast beer. In them old days weak wort was collected after this first portion and that was used for making beer for women and children + everyday use.
Once you have the wort it needs to be chilled. The tradition was to cool it in lake or sea, but modern wort coolers can be employed just as well. The chilled (20-30C) wort is then pitched with fresh bakers yeast to start the fermentation. The first stage of fermentation happens in a warm place and takes two days. You can use your regular fermenter here, but a regular kettle with a fitting lid works just as well and is more traditional way of doing it. After two days has passed the sahti is transferred to a cool location to complete the fermentation. 10-15C would be ideal but compromises sometimes have to be made and a fridge can be employed if necessary. After one week in cold the fermentation should be close to complete and the drinking may began. Traditionally sahti is drunk straight from the fermentation vessel, but you can also siphon it out if you want to leave the yeast to the bottom. In fridge the final fermentation may take longer. If using cool fridge you may let the sahti ferment to lower SG in a warm place and then let it settle in cold. A small amount of carbon dioxide will form at this second fermentation stage so the beer won't be completely flat.
How does it taste then? Imagine a nice hefe dunkel weisbier. Remove most of the carbon dioxide, add some fruitiness, juniper and rye flavour and remove the hops. When first tasted it's kind of a flat taste with interesting complex fruitiness and long after taste. After the first pint it's starting to taste real good and after the second one you are about the get drunk. After several pints, well I already warned you some people just can't take it Wink
I hope this short article tickles your curiosity and makes you do a test batch. After all this kind of beer has been drank for thousands of years and it's really worth trying. It also gives you a new perspective to modern beers; they really have come a long way from their ancestors. One last thing, if you want to try this for Yule 14th would be a good day to start.
If some is good and more is better, then too much is just right.